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  • Bass on the Dark Side

    Landing big bass at Lake Millwood is hard enough in the daytime, but imagine fighting a monster like this at night. For Mike Siefert of Lake Millwood Guide Service, fighting big bass at night is one of the most exciting things about summer.
    Summer in Arkansas.

    Used by permission; BY BRYAN HENDRICKS of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette
    Photo courtesy of Mike Siefert

    With temperatures in the high 90s and humidity driving the heat index into the 100s, it's too hot to fish or do much of anything else in the daytime.

    Nighttime is different. The air is cool and full of delightful night sounds, the calling of cicadas and tree frogs. The "Song of the South," I call it.

    Largemouth bass like it better after the sun goes down, too. They feel safe under the cover of darkness, so that's when they emerge from their lairs and prowl for food. There are no boat hull silhouettes above them, no sharp-taloned ospreys or eagles to make them feel insecure.

    All the bass you swore didn't exist during working hours are available to be caught during the midnight shift. It'll be that way well into September, when the weather breaks and the boat traffic thins, so now is the perfect time to experience the "dark side" of Arkansas bass fishing.

    For Steve Roberts, night fishing for bass at Lake Ouachita is a chance to recharge between peak times as head football coach at Arkansas State. For him, there's no time to fish in the fall and winter, and very little in the spring. That leaves summer, and the only time it's bearable is at night.

    "I don't get to go near enough," Roberts said. "I get to go four or five times a year in the summer. Catching fish is just a bonus. Being out there at night in the quiet, by yourself or with a friend, just relaxing and enjoying yourself, being out in nature is pretty neat."

    Of course, catching fish can be a big bonus. Roberts said he might go half the night without a bite, but when the bites come, they come in bunches. The fish are usually bigger than what you might hope to catch in the daytime, too.

    "Even if they aren't better quality fish, they feel like better quality," Roberts said. "They hit it pretty good. The best one I've ever caught at night was about 8 pounds."

    Roberts said he usually starts just before sunset and tries to catch schooling bass. When the sun goes down, he concentrates on points near Denby and Shangri-La. He fishes a black spinnerbait, three-eighths- to one-halfounce, with a red trailer over brush piles. Sometimes, he also uses a 10-inch red shad Berkley Power Worm.

    "I start out on the tip of a point and fish down the side," Roberts said. "We're trying to find grass."

    Working the bait is a matter of feel in the dark. You know your depth from the electronic graph. The rest is in your fingers.

    "I don't use a black light or anything like that," Roberts said. "It's just the experience of knowing which direction the points run. If you haven't been out during the day, it helps to scout around and find points, find some grass and a few brush piles."

    The best times, Roberts said, start three days before the full moon and on into the full moon.

    "Sometimes it matters, sometimes it doesn't," Roberts said. "When the moon first comes up and right before it goes down, we catch a lot of fish."

    Chunk rocks, boulders and gravel define the bottom of this big impoundment of the Little Red River, but night fishing tactics here are similar to those at Lake Ouachita. Larry Nixon, the professional bass angler from Bee Branch, said you can't go wrong fishing points.

    "If you fish enough points, you're going to catch some fish," Nixon said. "The bass are always between 12 and 20 feet. I've always done best fishing plastic worms, black with a threeeighths-ounce sinker."

    Nixon positions his boat over depths of 30-50 feet and throws his worm to the bank, working it slowly down the point into deeper water. A GPS unit makes it easier to follow the exact topographic contour, he added.

    Nixon also recommended using black lights so you can see your line. Clear line lights up really well under black lighting, he said, and fluorocarbon line is more sensitive than monofilament, so you can feel strikes better.

    "The big key is to use enough weight so you know when your bait is on the bottom," Nixon said. "When you raise that rod tip, hop that worm in the air and ease the rod back down. You can tell when the worm hits the bottom again.

    Unlike Roberts, Nixon seldom uses a spinnerbait at night. He said a spinnerbait allows you to cover a lot of water, but the worm allows him to thoroughly fish spots he knows well.

    "I like to find a point and catch eight or 10 bass off one point," Nixon said. "When I'm spinnerbaiting, I'm just fishing areas, trying to pick up what I can."

    On Beaver Lake, guide Brad Wiegmann goes against the grain. Like Greers Ferry, there's hardly any natural cover in this old, rocky impoundment of the White River, so he doesn't bother looking for it. Instead, he entices fish to the surface with a black buzzbait or a Jitterbug. Yes, the old Arbogast Jitterbug, a relic from a bygone era that nobody uses anymore. At least, that's what they'd have you believe.

    "People don't talk about the Jitterbug because they don't want anybody else out there using it," Wiegmann said. "It's a fantastic bait!"

    If he does find a brush pile, Wiegmann uses a 7 /2-inch ribbontail worm. That's also an anachronism because the 10-inch worm is all the rage nowadays.

    "I'm kind of 'old-school' that way, but I catch just as many fish with the smaller worm," Wiegmann said. "I use YUM, green pumpkin."

    Wiegmann always looks for areas where the main channel swings close to the bank in the middle part of the lake, from Prairie Creek to Hickory Creek. Bluff ends are also good for catching Kentucky bass, but sometimes they can surprise you with largemouths, too.
    "The last two big fish I caught on Beaver were on bluff banks," Wiegmann said. "One was about 1 6 /2 pounds, and the other was about 4 pounds. I caught them within 10 feet of each other, and that was just one evening. It shocked me because I didn't catch any Kentuckies off that bank, but on Beaver, bluff ends are gold mines."
    Like Roberts and Nixon, Wiegmann prefers fishing on or around the full moon. He said he doesn't know if it affects fish behavior, but a full moon certainly allows him to see better.

    If you want to catch some really big bass, you need to go to south Arkansas. There, you'll find the state's biggest big bass factories, including the granddaddy of them all, Lake Millwood.

    An impoundment of the Little River, Millwood has everything giant, Florida-strain largemouths love. It has lots of food and plenty of line-snapping cover in the form of brush piles, cypress knees, sharp-bladed grass and fallen timber. The big bruisers come out at night, and that's when Mike Siefert of Millwood Lake Guide Service gets excited.
    "On Millwood at night, fishing seven to eight hours, you should be able to catch anywhere from 10 to 25 fish," Siefert said. "You might average 2 /2 to 3 /2 pounds, but on a good night, you might average 4 /2 to 8 /2. Occasionally you might put a 10-pound fish in the boat. My biggest Millwood bass was about 11 /2 pounds, but I cannot tell you the number of fish I've caught between 8 and 12, or my clients, either. Millwood is so full of big fish, it's unbelievable."

    At night, around thick cover, fighting and landing a big fish can be a rodeo.

    "We don't have any rocks, but we have stumps and cypress trees," Siefert said. "That creates challenges for people coming to the lake for the first time."

    The key to landing fish in that environment is to bring tackle big enough to handle the strain.

    "When a big fish hits, it will sow you up in the cypress knees, or wrap you up and break you off," Siefert said. "I can't overemphasize the importance of 6-foot, 6-inch, medium-heavy to heavy rods and 20-pound test braided line or heavier. It's just like Lake Fork in Texas. It's just chock full of stumps, hydrilla, coontail, milfoil, pondweed and alligator weed. We call it 'The Jungle.' "

    At night, Siefert said there's no reason to fish anywhere except the main river channel. It has everything, including good habitat and big bass.

    "We've got anywhere from 250 to 350 brush piles planted," Siefert said. "They attract crappie, but they attract bass, too. You're also looking for timber where fish will suspend up and down the trunks of trees. Primary points have stumps on them, too."

    To catch fish, Siefert likes his black, homemade, dual-wing buzzbait with a thick-strand, black rubber skirt. The buzzbait squeaks instead of clacks, and Siefert said bass can't resist it. The thick-strand skirt displaces a large volume of water, which sends big vibrations through the water. It's easy for bass to find in the dark.

    "As long as we're getting bites on topwaters, that's my favorite way to fish," Siefert said. "It's better with the moon, or a piece of the moon.

    Copyright 2009, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc.
    All rights reserved.

    Bass On The Dark Side
    Used by permission; BY BRYAN HENDRICKS of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette
    Posted on Sunday, July 19, 2009

    Photo courtesy of Mike Siefert